Emma Morgenthaler had 20 minutes to let the nerves sink in. She had completed her vault at the USA Gymnastics Region II Championship in Helena, Mont., but there were still other competitors who had to go. As she watched the other Level 9 performers on the vault, her nervousness grew.
When the time for the announcement of the winner came, the 12-year-old gymnast from Bellingham had the top score of 9.325 in the vault.
"I was really, really happy because I had won regional vault," Morgenthaler recalled in a phone interview.
Morgenthaler's roundoff back handspring layout was enough to earn a 0.05-point victory in the vault. She also placed 12th in the bars, eighth in the beam and fifth in the floor routine to take eighth overall at the April 12 event.
"Emma is very competitive and focused," said Yvonne Morgenthaler, Emma's mother. "All the events are going on at the same time so they really have to concentrate. We asked her about it once when she was younger and she said, 'Mommy, I don't hear anything else but my coach.'"
As a result of her performance, Morgenthaler was named to the Junior A Western National Team and will compete in the 2014 Women's Level 9 Western Gymnastics Championships on Friday, May 2, in Boise, Idaho. The Western Championship includes all gymnasts from regions west of the Mississippi River, allowing Morgenthaler to see how she stacks up to the nation's top talent in Level 9.
"There will be higher-level competition, but I want to go and have fun because it's the last event of the season," she said.
Morgenthaler started doing gymnastics at 2 years old when her parents put her in the younger kids' tumbling classes at Bellingham Bay Gymnastics. When she turned 6 she became more enthralled with the sport and moved to Gym Star Sports Center in Ferndale.
While at Gym Star, Morgenthaler improved her skills enough to advance from Level 3 to Level 4 by the time she turned 8. When one of her coaches moved to Eastside Gym in Woodinville, she followed. Now she trains 21-26 hours each week, not including the time to drive to the gym from Bellingham.
"I want to get to Level 10 and become an elite gymnast someday," Morgenthaler said. "I need to start twisting on my vault, so I'll have to add a full layout off the vault. I'm going to need a release move on bars and harder skills on beam and floor."
Some days, Morgenthaler arrives to practice early for extra help with bars, which she feels she needs to improve the most. After the Western Championships the gymnastics season ends, but her training gets more intense as she tries to add more skills to her repertoire before next season starts in December.
For her performance at the Western Championships, Morgenthaler isn't changing her vault routine, but she is trying new routines for the beam, bars and floor in hopes of improving on her showing at Regionals.
To find out how Morgenthaler does at the 2014 Women's Level 9 Western Championships on Friday, May 2, in Boise, Idaho, visit 2014usagwesternchampionships.shutterfly.com.
Reach Alex Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2285.